Despite new ownership and a new TV deal, it looks like it’s going to be more of the same for the Padres. While the NL West rival San Francisco Giants are coming off a second World Series title in three seasons and the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to spend lavishly, the Padres appear content with the status quo. They hope Chase Headley will replicate his big season, and they will continue to build from within. They don’t seem inclined to go after big-name free agents, even though they are bringing in the fences at Petco Park. The Padres were so bad in April and May that a strong second half couldn’t lift them out of fourth place.
The Padres were hit particularly hard by injuries to starters last season, beginning when projected Opening Day starter Tim Stauffer was scratched hours before first pitch due to a sore elbow. Stauffer came back in May and made only one start before the injury flared up again. Then again, it wasn’t a powerhouse rotation to begin with. Edinson Volquez, one of four players obtained from Cincinnati for Mat Latos, bounced back nicely from a disappointing final season with the Reds. Jason Marquis made 15 starts after coming to San Diego from Minnesota, and posted the lowest WHIP (1.302) of his career. Eric Stults seemed to get better as the season progressed. The Padres won eight of his final 10 starts. Tyson Ross, who never found his groove in Oakland last season, has earned the fifth spot with s strong spring.
Injuries weren’t limited to the rotation. Huston Street, who replaced Heath Bell as the closer, was on the disabled list twice, with lattisimus dorsi and calf injuries. Nonetheless, he made his first All-Star team and converted 23-of-24 save opportunities. The Padres gave him a $14 million, two-year contract extension. San Diego will look for some stability in the bullpen, where 19 different pitchers made at least one appearance last year. The pen featured seven rookies, including righthanders Brad Boxberger (2.60 ERA in 24 games), Brad Brach (3.78 ERA in 67 games), Dale Thayer (3.43 ERA in 64 games) and Nick Vincent (1.71 ERA in 27 games). Luke Gregerson is the only remaining pitcher from San Diego’s former 1-2-3 punch in the pen, which included Mike Adams and Bell.
The Padres injected some life into their dismal season when they released second baseman Orlando Hudson and placed shortstop Jason Bartlett on the disabled list with a knee injury on May 17. On the same day, the Padres brought up Everth Cabrera, who has been with the Padres off and on since 2009, and exciting Alexi Amarista, who stands just 5'7" and was obtained from the Angels in the deal for reliever Ernesto Frieri. Cabrera became the first Padres player to lead the National League in stolen bases, swiping 44 bags in 48 attempts. While Cabrera took over at shortstop, Amarista split time with Logan Forsythe at second base. Forsythe is the projected starter at second, but Amarista will definitely be in the mix. Top prospect Jedd Gyorko could force himself into the picture if he continues to hit well.
After failing to put up the kind of numbers expected of a third baseman in his first four big-league seasons, Headley more than made up for it with a career year in 2012. The Padres, who control Headley’s rights for two more seasons, would like to see him do it again. He’ll get a late start this season due to a fractured thumb that will cost him the first month or so. With a more aggressive approach and adjustments to his swing that helped him cope with spacious Petco Park, he hit .286 with 31 home runs and led the National League with 115 RBIs. Headley was rewarded with his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and he finished fifth in NL MVP voting. On the other side of the infield, Yonder Alonso had a solid rookie season. He started 144 games at first base, hit .273 and led all big-league rookies with 39 doubles, which set a Padres rookie record. Alonso is one of four players obtained from the Reds for Latos the previous offseason.
Two of the three probable starters, left fielder Carlos Quentin and center fielder Cameron Maybin, have contract security. The Padres haven’t yet bestowed that on right fielder Will Venable. Quentin had a mixed season, showing the power the Padres sought when they obtained him from the White Sox but missing considerable time after having arthroscopic knee surgery during spring training. Quentin played in only 86 games, hitting .261 with 16 homers and 46 RBIs in 284 at-bats. After being reinstated from the 15-day disabled list on May 28, he announced his arrival by hitting five home runs, four doubles and driving in nine runs in his first six games. If he can stay healthy, he can do some damage at Petco Park. The Padres gave Quentin a $27 million, three-year contract that runs through 2015. During spring training, the Padres signed Maybin to a $25 million, five-year contract. He started slowly but set career-highs by playing in 147 games and driving in 45 runs, and tied his career-best with 44 walks. Maybin made several spectacular catches, including robbing Matt Kemp of a go-ahead homer in a Padres win at Dodger Stadium in early September. Venable made a career-high 103 starts, 80 of them in right, while hitting .264 with nine homers. Chris Denorfia started 60 games in right and proved his worth by setting career-highs with a .293 average, 102 hits, 19 doubles, 56 runs scored and 130 games played.
The Padres were thrilled with Yasmani Grandal after he made his big-league debut on June 20. He hit .297 with 16 extra-base hits and 36 RBIs in 60 games, with 52 starts. Then they were shocked when Grandal was suspended for the first 50 games of 2013 after testing positive for testosterone. Grandal’s suspension gives the job back to Nick Hundley, who seemed expendable after an awful season. Hundley was given a $9 million, three-year contract extension during spring training, then proceeded to hit just .157, was demoted to Triple-A and then, after being recalled, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Backup John Baker also returns.
Denorfia is practically a starter, platooning with Venable in right field and also making starts in left and center. Amarista excited fans with his speed and hustle as he played second base and a little bit at shortstop. Baker ended up starting 52 games at catcher and will be called on again early this season due to Grandal’s suspension. The Padres like Mark Kotsay’s veteran leadership — in the clubhouse as well as in the dugout — so much that he’ll be back at age 37.
The Padres picked up the options for 2014 and ’15 for manager Bud Black, who is the eternal optimist. On one hand, he’s perfect for this club because of his positive nature. On the other hand, there are some who would like to see Black get on his players more. Like Bruce Bochy before him, Black seems destined to shepherd a team that’s barely given a fighting chance by ownership. General manager Josh Byrnes says the Padres were inspired by seeing another low-budget team, the Oakland A’s, reach the playoffs last season.
The Padres teased their fans with a strong finish in 2009, followed by a 90-win 2010 season that fell just short of the playoffs. They appear to be following the same script, although losing 10 of their final 15 games of 2012 put a damper on what had been a strong second half. The Padres might inch closer to finishing .500 or slightly above, but that’s probably about all the fans can expect this season. If they’re really going to contend, that probably won’t happen until 2014 or later. Their payroll is expected to increase beyond last year’s $55 million, but much of it will go toward salaries decided in arbitration rather than to free agents. A big clue came when the Padres were extremely quiet during the Winter Meetings.
SS Everth Cabrera (S)
Recalled on May 17 and became first Padre to lead NL in stolen bases with 44 in 48 attempts.
2B Logan Forsythe (R)
Played in 91 games, including 73 starts at second, and hit .273 in first full big-league season. Could lose playing time to top prospect Jedd Gyorko, who will fill in at third during Headley's absence.
3B Chase Headley (S)
Former second-round pick became the first player in Padres history to have two months with 30-plus RBIs. Will miss the start of the season with a fractured thumb, but hopes to return in April.
LF Carlos Quentin (R)
Limited to 86 games after knee surgery; five of his 16 homers came in his first six games.
1B Yonder Alonso (L)
Made 144 starts, had .348 on-base percentage and hit .273 with Padres rookie-record 39 doubles.
RF Will Venable (L)
Played in career-high 148 games, including 103 starts; tied career-best with .264 average.
CF Cameron Maybin (R)
Set career highs with 147 games played and 45 RBIs and tied career-high with 44 walks.
C Nick Hundley (R)
Rough year included demotion to minors, .157 average and season-ending knee injury.
C John Baker (L)
Played in 63 games and started 52; threw out only 9-of-58 basestealers.
UT Jesus Guzman (R)
Utilityman made first Opening Day roster and started 65 games at three different positions (plus DH).
OF Mark Kotsay (L)
Hit .271 with two homers and nine RBIs as pinch-hitter; started 29 games. Should make a terrific manager some day.
OF Chris Denorfia (R)
Made career-high 77 starts in outfield; batted leadoff in 45 games, hitting .303.
IF Alexi Amarista (L)
Injected life into middle infield after trade from Angels; first career home run was game-winning grand slam.
RH Edinson Volquez
Was 11–11 with 4.14 ERA in first Padres season; threw first complete game, a one-hitter vs. Houston at Petco.
LH Clayton Richard
Workhorse set career-highs with 218.2 innings, 14
victories and 31 homers allowed.
RH Jason Marquis
After release by Twins was 6–7 with 4.04 ERA in 15 starts for Padres before breaking left wrist.
LH Eric Stults
Waived by White Sox; went 8–3 with 2.92 ERA in 18 games with Padres, including 14 starts.
RH Tyson Ross
Struggled mightily with Oakland last season, but has rebounded with a strong spring.
RH Huston Street (Closer)
First-time All-Star converted 23-of-24 save opportunities; earned two-year extension.
RH Luke Gregerson
Had career-bests with 2.39 ERA and nine saves in team-high 77 appearances.
RH Dale Thayer
Was 2–2 with 3.43 ERA and seven saves in 64 games in his longest big-league stint.
RH Brad Brach
Was 2–4 with 3.78 ERA and led all NL rookies with 67 appearances, second-most on team.
LH Joe Thatcher
Bounced back from 2011 shoulder surgery to pitch in 55 games, going 1–4 with 3.41 ERA.
LH Tommy Layne
Made jump from Double-A to majors, going 2–0 with a 3.24 ERA in 26 appearances.
RH Anthony Bass
Split between rotation and pen; went 2–8 with 4.73 ERA and had first career complete game and save.